THE DUNBAR EFFECT

The term ‘friend’ has actually been diluted if not misrepresented in recent years because of Facebook. A friend of mine for example currently has 875 ‘friends’. The question is, does she really? The answer quite simply is no.

A term you’re most likely not to be aware of is the ‘Dunbar number’. This is the current agreed cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships a primate is capable of maintaining.

To explain, these are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. So how many can humans manage? It has been proposed, found and accepted to lie at approximately 150. That’s 150 people you can know and keep in social contact with. This does not include however, the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship i.e. one of your work colleagues from your previous job that you haven’t spoken to since you left last year. These are essentially voyeurs to your online life who have no real meaning in your day to day life.

But what about the internet and social media I hear you ask, surely that changes the goal posts?
Actually it doesn’t, if anything it’s yet another way to prove the Dunbar numbers accuracy. This is because according to the most recent stats on Facebook useage, the average user across Facebook (no matter in what country they live), has 130 friends. Moreover, the average amount of people each Facebook user connects with online on a regular basis is actually only 3 to 5 people.

Now you know this, when you have a bit of time, try going through your list of Facebook friends and try categorising them using this insight, it’s amazing what you find.